Veterans Cup photo

Belstone Sunday Vets capture the Veterans Cup in dramatic style!

Sunday 24th March 2024 – 2:00pm at Enfield Town FC, Donkey Lane

Middlesex FA Veterans Cup Final  – sponsored by High 5 Sports Nutrition


Afshar og 12’, Wales 83’   ——   Arthur 11’ & 17’, Stewart (pen) 90+5’

Referee Kevin Guy leads both teams out

Belstone finally succeeded in wresting the Middlesex Vets’ Cup from Middlesex Wanderers, who have held a tight grip on it for the previous five seasons.

The Herts Super League (Premier) side had progressed to the final after defeating London Japanese Vets (3-4 away) and FC Shepherd’s Bush Vets (4-0 at home), sandwiching walkovers against Enfield Borough and FC Shepperton, whilst their opponents – something of an all-star team who do not play in a regular league – had begun with a bye before seeing off Winchmore Hill Vets 35 (4-2 away), Continental 58 Vets (4-1 at home), and Southgate Olympic Vets (1-0 at home).  

Gathering on the excellent Enfield Town playing surface, on a bright but chilly afternoon, the match officials and both squads were presented to Guest of Honour Robin Jagot, a member of both Middlesex FA Council and the Competitions Committee.

Since this competition was relaunched in 2009/10, these two clubs both have remarkable records, never having failed to reach the final in any season in which they have competed.  Middlesex Wanderers, who boast a host of well-known former non-League stars, and are managed / coached by Ricci Crace, Eddie McCluskey, Nicky Ironton, and Dave Bastian, had – prior to today’s encounter, won 26 Middlesex Vets Cup ties with no defeats. First entering in 2017/18, their unsuccessful Final opponents have been Tansley (2-1 in 2017/18), Interwood (2018/19), Parkfield Youth OB (4-2 in 2020/1), Shire United (2-1 in 2021/2), and Belstone (4-2 in 2022/3), with the 2019/20 final (in which they were due to face Jamrock) unplayed due to the pandemic. Belstone Sunday first entered in 2014/15, defeating Bushey Sports Club (4-2) in the final, and returned to the competition last season with the aforementioned final appearance versus Middlesex Wanderers; their record before today was 8 victorious ties and just that one defeat.  Meanwhile, Belstone continue to push for their league title, a point behind two clubs, but with games in hand on both, and comfortable the best goal difference and goals scored total, and are also in their League Cup semi-final, having won that cup last season.

Jamie Arthur tests Shane Gore in the Wanderers goal

Wanderers gave notice that they would not release their grip on the cup without a fight, and quickly put the Belstone ‘keeper Sam Styles under pressure, with Mario Noto closing him down, only to be thwarted by an offside flag.  They kept up the early pressure, winning an 11th minute corner, but this as to be their undoing, when the flag kick was cleared, and Belstone counterattacked swiftly, Jamie Arthur burning up the flank and rifling home an angled shot to open the scoring. 

In an amusing moment, Arthur expended more of his seemingly boundless energy to make the 80 yard dash to celebrate in front of his young son on the terraces, only to discover that the lad had missed the goal entirely and was oblivious to his dad’s exploit! Middlesex quickly got back onto the attack, and within a minute drew level thanks to an own goal, a teasing cross forcing Drew Afshar to attempt to nod the ball out for a corner, only for the chilly breeze or bright low sun to cause a misjudgement, instead sending it just inside Styles’ post. 

However, Belstone now looked a confident outfit, and it took until only the 17th minute for them to re-establish the lead, another swift break feeding the speedy Arthur who again obliged with a powerful and accurate low drive, which – this time – his boy was watching! Three times in the next 10 minutes it looked like he might have a matchball to take home for the lad, but each time the hat-trick eluded him: Sam Ledger made a superbly times defensive intervention to deny the first, ‘keeper Shane Gore saved the second as well as Karl Bull’s follow-up, and although he was rounded for the last of these chances, he had done enough to narrow the angle so that Arthur could find only the side-netting.  Ledger had picked up a knock for his troubles, and had to be withdrawn soon afterwards, and for the last 10 minutes of the half, the tide seemed to be turning back into Wanderers’ favour. 

Sam Styles makes a flying save

Rob Laney found space on their left but dragged his shot across the face of goal; Ricky Holmes unleashed a rasping shot that proved more dangerous to the adjacent advertising boards than the Belstone goal; and Steve Wales forced a flying save from Styles. With play returning to the other end in the 44th minute, Arthur again went close for Belstone, but Ryan Wade was able to hook the ball to safety from virtually under his own bar. Wanderers came within a whisker of securing an interval seconds before Kevin Guy sounded the half-time whistle, Laney fed Holmes, whose powerful drive from just outside the box eluded the diving ’keeper but came back off the foot of the post.  

A flurry of substitutions – and a couple of bookings as the remarkable pace of the game took its toll – did nothing to lessen the entertainment that these sides served up during the second half.  Notable moments in the first quarter hour included Wanderers’ James Pugsley seeing a shot beaten away by Styles, and another Arthur attempt for Belstone skimming agonisingly across the goalmouth. 

When the same player beat the offside by a fraction in the 66th minute, and got through one-on-one against Gore, the Wanderers’ goalkeeper did well to take the sting out of his shot, from which Gaz Dauti was able to complete the clearance for a corner.  The Belstone talisman picked up a knock in that incident, and had to be substituted, but as the resulting high corner kick was contested in the box, his team mates appealed for a penalty – but the decision was for another Belstone corner.  Once again, Middlesex Wanderers weathered the storm, and as the game entered the final 10 minutes, they ramped up their own pressure to try to send the match to a penalty shoot-out.  Holmes had a great chance blocked, Wales forced Styles to save with his feet, and a quickly taken free-kick move saw Noto crash a long shot just over the bar. 

Then in the 83rd minute, Dale Binns won a corner, which he took himself, picking out Wade, and the Middlesex defender pumped the ball into the danger area for Steve Wales to rise and head home his side’s equaliser.  Now any outcome was possible – Belstone did not let their disappointment at conceding a late equaliser dampen their attacking spirit, Wanderers were reinvigorated and pushed hard for a winner, but would defences hold firm and force the tie to penalties?  Four additional minutes were signalled and all but completed, when Styles kept Belstone in it by saving Laney’s header from a Holmes cross.  The game had reached added added time when Belstone skipper Leon Stewart wriggled free in the box and was clumsily challenged by Laney, and it was a penalty! Leon Stewart took a deep breath and steadied himself before stroking the ball home and securing an historic victory for Belstone.

Guest of Honour Robin Jagot hands out the medals

Robin Jagot selected and presented the Man of the Match award to Belstone’s Jamie Arthur, before going on to hand out the medals to the four excellent match officials, the gallant runners-up, and the jubilant winners BELSTONE SUNDAY VETERANS, whose smiling skipper Leon Stewart finally got the chance to lift the cup, having missed out to the same opposition a year ago.

Veterans Cup photo

Middlesex Wanderers [yellow (blue trim) / blue / blue]: 1g Shane Gore, 2 Steve Ward ©, 3 Daren Till, 4 Ryan Wade, 5 Sam Ledger, 6 Michael Black, 7 Steve Wales, 8 Mario Noto, 9 Rob Laney, 10 Seb Murfet, 11 Ricky Holmes; substitutes (used on a rolling basis): 12 Francis Duku, 14 Gaz Dauti, 15 James Pugsley, 16 Dale Binns, 17 Phil Turner.  Caution: Noto 62’.

Belstone Sunday [red (white & black trim); black; black]: 1g Sam Styles, 3 Jamie Diston, 15 Joe Young, 12 Mark Kirby, 2 Andrew Afshar, 5 John Christian, 6 Warren Gladdy, 16 Gerard Hefferon, 9 Jamie Arthur, 10 Leon Stewart ©, 7 Karl Bull; substitutes (used on a rolling basis): 8 Darren Butler, 13 Danny Waters, 14 Danny Tilbury, 17 Chris Ingham, 18 Phillip Merritt.  Cautions: Young 80’, Christian 88’.

The champions

Referee: Kevin Guy; Assistant Referees: Malcolm Walsh and Nick Gibbs; Fourth Official: Simon Cudner.

Attendance: 76.

Our special thanks go to High 5 - the official sponsors of the Veterans Cup who provided their sports nutrition products and drinks bottles for players and match officials to enjoy before, during and after the match.

Veterans Cup photo

Photography: Russ Evans